The Best in New Home Design on Display Again This Weekend at Charlottesville's 2011 Parade of Homes


offering area residents a second opportunity to view the best in new construction from local builders.  When you study Parade maps you will find featured homes available across a large geographic area that includes Greene, Fluvanna and Louisa Counties as well as Charlottesville city and Albemarle County from Keswick to Crozet. This year’s Parade also includes the newly opened Preserve at Glenmore where multi-acre wooded homesites (including a 23 acre site) are available for yet-to-be-built homes.

The Parade is a terrific opportunity for prospective buyers, people contemplating remodeling an existing home, or those who just appreciate the best in new construction, to learn about the latest trends in home building such as energy efficient appliances and insulation as well as what is current in building supplies. Maintenance free decking, tankless water heaters, and programmable thermostats are hot this year, as are cutting edge heating and cooling systems.  Beautifully designed interiors are also on display including the latest in countertops, cabinetry and windows.
For builders the Parade is valuable for offering positive exposure to the marketplace.  Rick Beyer, of R.L. Beyer Custom Homebuilders describes his company’s long participation as a “highlight of the year.”  Wes Kent of Craig Builders  said “the Parade is a premier event for builders allowing us to showcase our best product to the public.  Hundreds of people walk through our homes during one of these events.”  Of course home buyers have a golden opportunity to meet different builders or their representatives and view their product giving them a head start for when it’s time to build.
If you are thinking about buying a new home, remodeling your present home or are just curious and want more information about the process, the kinds of homes available, and the builders who can make it happen, take time to visit this year’s Parade.  Maps are available at the BRHBA website and in many local publications.  Homes are open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5:00 pm and will be staffed with experts, including often the builders themselves, to answer all of your questions.
First Floor Master Suites are Increasingly Popular
As  Baby Boomers retire with money in their pockets, their preferences are helping set trends for new homes. A popular choice is one floor living, or at least first floor master suites.  According to the National Association of Home Builders, at least 40 percent of new homes nationwide have first floor masters, up 15 percent from a decade ago.
Locally builders are seeing the same demand and are building accordingly.  For example, Charlie Armstrong, Vice President of Southern Development Homes, referenced their popular Keswick model, which is all on one level.  “It’s not just Boomers requesting these kinds of floor plans,” he said. “Many younger buyers are requesting first floor masters as they plan for the future.”  This may in part reflect another trend.  Armstrong said more and more people are viewing a home purchase as a much longer term investment than perhaps they would have some years back.  When they buy a home they know they may live there until poor health makes it difficult to climb stairs and they plan accordingly.
Justin Kent, a REALTOR® with Better Homes and Gardens, Real Estate III, who represents Craig Builders, also mentioned the importance of first floor living and offered yet another suggestion about their apparent popularity. “Many of our customers ask for this feature in part because they feel it will help with resale.” 
Rick Beyer agrees that first floor masters are important and a priority for many buyers. In addition, however, he sees a growing demand for homes with two master suites.  “Retirees and empty nesters have more free time today,” he said, “and they like having a comfortable place to entertain friends and family. With two master suites guests can come for a visit and not have to walk down the hallway to use a shared bathroom.”  Of course, a second master suite also works well in those situations where adult children move back in after leaving home for awhile.
Energy Efficiency
Another big focus in today’s new homes is energy efficiency. “This has been a slowly building movement since the early 80s,” Beyer said.  He added that while early on this interest was not mainstream,  it has become so in the last several years due to big cost increases.  The home building industry has responded with homes that are more tightly built and better insulated. In fact, several of the builders pointed out that energy efficiency is a big reason to buy a new home rather than a resale.
Efficiency is helped along by heating and cooling systems which are increasingly efficient as well as innovations such as tankless water heaters.  Justin Kent suggested that while Craig Builders is cautious about any new technology, today’s tankless heaters are much improved over the original models and they are seeing an increased demand for them.  “It is primarily the younger crowd which is asking for them,” he said.
Rick Beyer noted that tankless heaters, while improved, must still be appropriately sized for the house.  Larger homes with four or five baths require a different heater from a starter home.  For people who prefer standard technology, conventional water heaters are also much improved, he offered.  Today they are better insulated and some even have their own heat pump built into the unit.
Custom Design
A big advantage of new construction over purchasing a resale house is the flexibility of choosing personal design elements.  Alternative floor plans and the ability to select certain types of features like paint, wallpaper or floor coverings are standard.  However, depending on the builder and the price range many other possibilities are available.  
For example, Wes Kent enjoys working with people to accommodate their interests and special needs.  Recently when consulting with a family with one disabled member, his company created a design with wider than average doorways and hallways to allow passage for a wheelchair.  Other kinds of handicap access were also built into the home making it much more liveable for this family than the average home.
Kitchen design is a  big focus in today’s new home market, according to Rick Beyer.  Many people are choosing upgraded appliances such as stoves with extra burners or warming drawers.  Double ovens are also in demand.  Beyer reports that entertaining and fixing food for friends is a popular pastime and people want to be able to entertain large groups with ease.  
While kitchens have always been important in home design, Charlie Armstrong explained that today people are more willing to settle for a home with less square footage, in exchange for an upgraded kitchen.  More and more the kitchen is a room where we all spend a lot of time so it is a place where people are choosing to spend more money to get exactly what they want.
When you attend the Parade look for another popular concept, the flex room or flex space. Armstrong explained this is a space which can serve different purposes as the need arises. For example it may start out as a den, but turn into a playroom when a couple starts having children.  Later, empty nesters may convert the space into an office or craft room.  This kind of flexibility allows people to manage with a smaller house and stay longer if they choose to do so.
The National Association of Homebuilders reports that incorporating these kinds of universal design features into new homes is becoming increasingly popular as people build with the intention of staying put.  Other popular options are designs which provide for more light. This could include large windows as well as carefully placed fixtures in areas like under counters, over bathroom mirrors or in closets making it easier for aging eyes to shave, put on make up, read recipes or do craft projects.
If you don’t enjoy landscaping and other yard maintenance chores, be aware of another benefit available in many new home communities.  Exterior maintenance is provided in townhome communities and some of the neighborhoods within a larger community such as Glenmore or Old Trail.  If this feature appeals to you, be sure to ask if it applies in the neighborhood where you want to live before signing a contract.
The Many Benefits of Buying a New Home
The builders emphasized that building a new home has many advantages over buying a resale product. You have the flexibility to create a space to fit you and your family rather than being forced to adapt to someone else’s idea of what is liveable. You can also enjoy a much higher level of energy efficiency saving lots of money in the years that you live there.
Today, more so than in previous years, prices are affordable and interest rates are very low.   Armstrong explained that this favorable combination often allows you to get a custom designed home at a price comparable to what you would have to pay for a resale home, yet when you move in, you won’t have to make any changes because it already fits your needs. Beyer agrees, stressing that this combination of low prices and interest rates won’t last.
Special financing is available for qualifying new home buyers.  Josh Klemmer, Market Leader of the Central Virginia Region for New American Mortgage, one of two presenting sponsors of this year’s Parade, explained that building a home can take from four to eight months.  As a result, his company offers a program for new home buyers that permits them to lock in today’s low rates for up to six months.  If rates go down during that time they can even benefit from the lower rate if it happens within 30 days of closing.
To best enjoy this weekend’s Parade, start with a map and focus on location first, Armstrong advises.  Pick the neighborhoods and homes that are near amenities you consider to be important. “Today central locations are popular,” he continued.  “Many people like to be near town or other amenities such as restaurants and gyms.” This may account in part for the popularity of walkable communities such as Old Trail or Belvedere, both of which have models in the Parade. After you visit the homes that make sense geographically, then work your way out to the ones  that are further away.  All of the homes have something special to offer.  So go in and  be prepared to ask the builders and their staff a lot of questions.  As Armstrong says, “ get engaged.” 
Celeste Smucker is a writer, editor and author of Sold on Me, Daily Inspiration for Real Estate Agents.  She lives near Charlottesville.